Tell us something about yourself. What is your niche? Why did you start your business?
I lived in Poland with my husband for 2 hockey seasons while he played professional hockey there. To move there, I had quit my job as a Research Assistant at the VA Hospital and when the hockey season was up and my husband decided to be done with his hockey career, I didn’t know what to do. I took on some temporary jobs and became a distributor for the brand LipSense. I created some business cards and when a fellow distributor saw, she asked where I got them and I mentioned that I had made them. She asked me to sell a design to her and that’s when I first opened my Etsy shop. I was fortunate to hit the trend at the right time and made my first sale within 12 hours of opening my shop. I’ve been evolving it ever since and now sell some branding templates but also wedding and event templates which I love the most. I had made my own wedding invitations back in the day and wish that I had the skills I do now because they were hideous. It’s a true pleasure to be able to help DIY brides design something that speaks to their love and personality.
What type of products do you sell? How does your manufacturing process look like?
I sell instant download editable templates that can be personalized and printed anywhere. It’s a great option for folks that either want to save some money on printed stationery or who would like to add their special touch to the products.
What are some challenging aspects of your business? How did you overcome them?
The challenging aspects of this particular type of business are just running out of time. I receive many messages each day and keeping up with customer service has proven to be rather difficult. Because my time is so limited, I have narrowed down how to serve my customers best and have taken frequent questions and worked them into my listings. It’s important to stay dynamic as the needs of the customer base change. Providing them with a great deal of information upfront makes it easier for them to make an informed decision about their purchase and answer most of their questions before they need to contact me.
What do you enjoy most about being an entrepreneur? What’s the hardest about it?
Because I lived in Poland and did very little work-wise (very few spoke English where we were) I came back to the U.S. completely spoiled and couldn’t sit still at any of the temporary jobs I picked up. I’ve always had some trouble following the rules of a workplace because my brain desperately wants to create, innovate, and have fun. My husband also has an online business so we can live wherever we want, work when we want, and strive to build a life that we want faster than we would have been able to do if we were working a standard 9-5. I am forever grateful to be able to work from my home and travel to see my family whenever I need without having to take time off. I’m also incredibly thankful for the education it has given me in taxes, law, and business ethics. I wouldn’t trade it for the world and if I can help it, I will never go back.
What are some beginner mistakes you made? What advice or words of inspiration would you like to share?
I literally tried at least twelve business ideas before I could settle on one thing. I’ve had at least six websites that I designed from scratch, multiple affiliate programs, five Etsy shops, and various niches. I was all over the place for two years straight and because of that, I could, at one point barely make ends meet. The mortgage was past due and the fridge was empty but I couldn’t give up. I kept plowing on, trying to figure out what was the most lucrative idea I had. I took some freelance jobs helping clients with building websites and fixing their Etsy SEO and I thought, “Why am I doing this for them, but not for me?” So once I had made enough to pay my bills again, I started focusing on my core business. I shut down all extraneous Etsy sites, stopped doing freelance SEO work, deleted my extra websites, and focused only on ONE business. Extreme focus is absolutely the key to success. Distractions take you millimeters in several directions but if you focus on one thing, you can go miles in one direction. Finally figuring that out really saved my business. It took me two years to figure this out. I wish someone had told me!
What inspires you while designing and/or creating new products.
I find literally everything inspiring. When I see billboards, I get an idea. When I see the way the colors of the dirt are blending together, I get an idea. I built my entire Ophelia Collection off of this concept. I can’t help it. I never used to consider myself a really creative person but in college (although I studied science) my favorite class was art. Had I had the guts to pursue something other than science where I heard the money was, I would have instead chased my passions of art and writing.
How did you get the background and skills necessary to run this type of business?
It’s 2020 and skills can be learned anywhere! I watched countless YouTube videos, have read a great number of books, and have accomplished a lot via trial and error. This day and age, if you have access to a computer or phone, the possibilities are just endless. It’s really incredible.
What are some of the most effective ways in terms of marketing products to your customers?
Etsy is an interesting platform because it drives a lot of traffic for you. If you focus on your product photos, titles, listing descriptions, and SEO, you can gain a lot just by being on that platform. I also have a website which requires me to drive traffic there on my own and let me tell you, it’s a lot more difficult. I drive traffic via Pinterest, Instagram, and Facebook but social media marketing is tough for me, I’m not even on social media personally. I rarely post on Instagram or Facebook so Pinterest is the most passive way to do this. You can also run ads through Pinterest if you have your own website. You can track conversions and target certain audiences that work well. Retarget with Facebook ads and can gain fairly level ground there.
What would you say are the key elements for starting and running a successful online business?
Discipline and dedication are the keys to a successful online business. It’s certainly not easy to be successful. I wish it was but it just takes time. The trial and error over several years can be worth it if you have big goals in your life. I know I certainly do. It takes a lot of energy to run an online business, learn about business, taxes, and finances, and still make time for family and fun. It’s not for everyone but if you don’t get scared away by some failures, a lot of wonderful things can come out of it.
How do you personally define business success? Is it money? Freedom? Influence? Creative expression and innovation? Something else?
Business success to me is creating a life where I can live freely without worry and help my loved ones to thrive in the process. Times are crazy at the moment and without going on too long of a rant, finances in the U.S. are often ignored by the majority of the population. I worry that with the way things are, my parents won’t have enough to retire and that my family won’t be able to pay their medical bills. It’s important to me to have freedom, time, and creative expression but more than anything else, I want to make sure that family is fully taken care of in uncertain times.
Describe your day-to-day operation. How do you manage your time?
To be honest, I work a lot. When you are fully responsible for your income, it’s important to take it seriously. When you get out of the standard 9-5, you are no longer afforded the luxury of just showing up and getting paid. You have to plow on and continue to strive forward. The first thing I do in the morning is to track my numbers. I keep a spreadsheet to track my conversion rates, average order value, ad spend with cost per purchase and minus fees, my overall profit for the day. There was once a time that I didn’t do this and I had no idea how much I was actually losing rather than profiting. Numbers are the foundation of a business, if you want to be a serious business owner, you have to look at them every single day. After that, I manage my customer service nearly all day. I take my dogs for a walk sometime in between to calm my mind and get away from the computer but then I’m back at it. Creating, speaking with customers, and monitoring my website. It’s definitely a full-time job. Meanwhile, I try to get a bit of financial or economic education so that the growth can continue. You can’t grow if you just do the same things day in and day out.
How do you plan on growing your business? What is the biggest impact on your profitability?
Firstly, I need to finish the things I’ve started! I have about 30 designs that are half-finished and a lot of my customer service is people asking for pieces I haven’t created yet in a certain style. I get so many ideas that many of them go unfinished. I plan to continue with my Etsy shop and grow out of my website via social media and advertising. It’s a tough niche because it’s not an impulse buy and many brides look at a design and purchase it several months later. It skews the conversion data and makes it difficult to advertise for. I won’t give up on it though and plan to scale as much as I can. The biggest impact on profitability is advertising. My average order value is low because these are instant digital templates. Because of that, it’s imperative to run ads that maintain a good return on ad spend (ROAS). It’s so hard to do! Constantly monitoring it and fine-tuning has helped me over the years.
Anything you wish to add, feel free to do so here. We value your opinion
For folks starting their own business, especially on Etsy, I would mention that it’s important to stay true to you and your design aesthetic and ideas. Because it’s a creative platform and is quite transparent, it’s sometimes easy for people to find themselves copying one another. I would encourage every seller to find their most unique and true style because that will set you apart from the competition and help you to grow.